Giovanni’s Presto Pizza is nothing short of a Colombo institution. The humble pizza place that opened its doors in 2014 as a micro-restaurant with two tables and a wood-fired oven celebrates its eighth anniversary tomorrow (29).
Having opened to great buzz back in the day, Giovanni’s has retained a fiercely loyal customer base ever since, becoming a go-to name for great pizza and expanding to offer pasta and other Italian food as well.
The baby (almost literally) of owner Dimuthu Gamage, who was also once the force behind the pizzas at some of Colombo’s best-loved pizza places before branching out on his own, Giovanni’s provides a little food-hood with a taste of Italy that just cannot be beaten.
From the facade of the original Giovanni’s restaurant which resembles the little street-side bistros you find in many an Italian town, to the expansive but intimate outdoor space that Dimuthu has built next door, the touches of Italy are everywhere from the coloured chequered tablecloths to the glassware.
Like Dimuthu himself, Giovanni’s style is warm, welcoming, and simple. The food is hearty, to say the least, and simply delicious. Ahead of its eighth anniversary, The Sunday Morning Brunch decided to visit Giovanni’s for a catch-up with Dimuthu on this milestone as well as to gorge ourselves on Giovanni’s lip-smacking food.
‘Giovanni’s would be nothing without its customers’: Dimuthu Gamage
Speaking to Brunch, Dimuthu emphasised that his customers formed the heart of the Giovanni’s family, and have done so from day one. “In honour of the anniversary, I’ve said thank you to some of my most faithful customers by giving them their meals complimentary or sharing off-menu dishes we’ve been working on for them to get a taste,” Dimuthu said.
His customers have always been the reason behind the Giovanni’s success. The last few years have been challenging for all restaurants, but Dimuthu and the Giovanni’s team strove to positively, creatively, and productively keep operations as seamless as possible for their customers, who responded in kind by staying loyal and helping the business stay strong.
The Giovanni’s story
Catching Dimuthu for a few minutes before he ran off to personally make our pizzas, Brunch learned a little bit about how Giovanni’s came to be. Dimuthu’s experience ranges from working at Italian restaurants in Colombo to making the move to Italy where he also started a family (he is a single parent to three children and the oldest turns 17 tomorrow, the same day Giovanni’s turns eight).
Having tried to settle down in Italy but not finding the right kind of environment, Dimuthu returned to Sri Lanka with his youngest child, which was when he opened Giovanni’s and set down some roots before sending for his two oldest children to rejoin him in Sri Lanka.
“I always wanted to come back home and feel more comfortable with my children here,” Dimuthu explained, and Giovanni’s helped him do this, though he stressed that even after eight years: “I am not a businessman, I am still learning.”
Giovanni’s was named after an Italian friend of Dimuthu who was of immeasurable moral support to him during his time in Italy. “I worked in the kitchen, and he was a waiter. I was finding it quite difficult in Italy. It’s a beautiful place, but I did have to deal with racism, something he was familiar with because his wife was African-American. I had lots of challenges but he kept giving me the kick I needed to keep going and to grow. I nearly named the restaurant Francesco’s after my son, but I went with Giovanni’s to remember the lessons I learned.”
Giovanni’s will be celebrating its eighth birthday in quite an unusual way. The restaurant will likely be closed with the team taking a well-deserved trip after all their hard work.
But, this birthday will also mark a new chapter in the Giovanni’s journey, because Dimuthu will be launching a new cafe in Nawala that will take forward Giovanni’s vision of hearty Italian food with a unique twist.
No discussion of Giovanni’s is complete without the food, so let’s get on with the show. Dimuthu wowed us with a spread he personally prepared.
We started with Giovanni’s famous Antipasto Italiano – a collection of cured meat (pepperoni, parma ham, salami) with caprese salad – blue cheese, black olives, artichokes, capers, and some of Giovanni’s homemade bread. While there technically isn’t a lot of cooking going on here, this will always be one of our favourites.
We also sampled the Melanzane Parmigiana (eggplant baked with tomato and parmesan) which comes across like vegetarian lasagna, but is so much more with the eggplant and tomato coming together to be just sublime. We also had the Cotoletta Melanzane – bread and fried chicken fillets with a fresh Mediterranean tomato salad – a dish we’ve always found to be the perfect balance between indulgent and healthy.
We then moved onto the pizzas, sampling four of Giovanni’s most popular flavours – the All Meat (bacon, ham, pepperoni, chorizo, and chicken), the Bacon (tomato, basil, mozzarella, bacon, parmesan, and chilli flakes), the Diavola (pepperoni, mushroom, tomatoes, and green chilli), and the humble but classic Margherita (tomato, basil, and mozzarella). Incidentally, after all these years, and all the amazing pizzas he has pioneered, the Margherita remains Dimuthu’s personal favourite pizza of all time.
We then finished off with one of Giovanni’s signature pastas, the Gnocchi Pesto (little pillows of potato-based pasta dressed in a luxuriant sauce of basil, olive oil, herbs, and parmesan). Delectable doesn’t begin to do justice to this dish.
Brunch’s stars of the show
Our must-haves of the night were most definitely the All-Meat pizza, the Diavolo pizza, the Gnocchi Pesto, and the Melanzane Parmigiana.
The All-Meat is the dish that can start off any show with a bang. So meat-laden, you absolutely need two hands to get a slice onto your plates. It’s a very heavy pizza and is not for the faint of heart. It is, however, paradise for meat lovers; the signature Giovanni’s tomato sauce and the extra hits of spice that come with it makes it even more of an adventure. Nothing succeeds like excess, and the All-Meat understands this.
The Diavolo is a more restrained option, coming with pepperoni and mushroom, but it more than delivers in terms of flavour. The pairing of meat and plant protein topped with gooey cheese simply cannot disappoint.
The Gnocchi Pesto is delicious and comforting, regardless of whether it is a hot day or a cold one. It hits the spot in any season. The flavourful, creamy pesto sauce is a delight that everyone needs to experience. Even if you’re not into basil, you’ll still love this dish.
The flavours of the Melanzane Parmigiana are strong, but Giovanni’s is all about hearty flavours and the sweet spiciness of the tomato sauce combined with artfully flavoured eggplant sandwiched in layers of pasta are simply comfort food for the soul. Also, it’s vegetarian so you can argue that it’s healthy. At any rate, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.